An Event Apart: “Tech Humanism: Data, Meaning, and Human Experience”

Kate O’Neill speaking at An Event Apart Seattle 2018 on April 4, 2018.

With so much emphasis in business on artificial intelligence, automation of various kinds, and digital transformation, the future of human work — and even humanity itself — can feel uncertain. And while we often talk about user experience, customer experience, patient experience, and so on, we rarely consider what a truly integrated human experience might look and feel like. But “Tech Humanist” Kate O’Neill presents the case for why the future of humanity is in creating more meaningful, dimensional, and integrated experiences, and how emerging technologies like chatbots, wearables, IoT devices, and more can be included in this kind of human-centric design. While weaving in examples from a range of industries, applications, and even pop culture, Kate offers an inspiring and useful framework for designers, strategists, or anyone creating experiences for humans.


  • What makes us human?
  • Humans crave meaning
  • Machines and the future of meaningful human work
    • Machines are changing the nature of the work that we do
  • Data automation, machine learning, connected devices, etc. = Massive opportunity for manipulative, opportunistic, greedy, shady, absurd experiences (but also, even greater likelihood of poorly-planned, disconnected, out-of-context absurd experiences)
  • Tech-centric model
    • Algorithms to figure out where/how is effective/profitable to automate — Automation opportunistically simulating and maximizing human motivations at scale
    • Problem with tech-centric model? Too many unintended consequences
  • We need to improve the human experience
  • Human-centric model
    • Algorithms (alongside humans) figuring out where/how is meaningful to automate — Automation meaningfully simulating and maximizing human value at scale
  • We understand meaning, and machines don’t necessarily
  • Everything we create has the potential to scale wildly because of technology available today
  • Use data and technology to scale what is meaningful
  • And of course we’re measuring profit, it keeps the lights on — but if the lights are on and no one is home, what’s the point?
  • Design for what is meaningful so that it can scale
  • Automate the meaningful
  • Don’t give absurdity a chance to scale
  • Integrated Human Experience Design
    • Integrated — offline and online, all contexts together
    • Human — not just users, customers, patients, students, etc — but awareness of people across all their contexts
    • Experience — intentional layer of interactions and transactions
    • Design — the adaptive execution of strategic intent
  • Some of the key elements of Integrated Human Experience Design
    • Integration
    • Dimensionality
    • Metaphors and cognitive associations
    • Intentionality/purpose
    • Value and emotional load
    • Alignment
    • Adaptation and iteration
  • As the shape of our surroundings change, the shape of our experience changes too
  • Human experiences evolve, but the shapes change more readily than the nature
  • Metaphor — The way to experience one thing as if it’s another
  • Metadata — The data framing of an experience
  • The design of experience online now regularly intersects with the design of experiences off-line
  • Relevance is a form of respect
    • I’m not going to bother you with all the stuff that doesn’t matter
    • Discretion is also a form of respect (don’t overstep boundaries)
  • Analytics are people
    • It’s important to realize that you are making things for real people
  • Machines are what we encode of ourselves
    • We are the ones creating the algorithms and the data, we determine how the code will work
    • We have got to hold ourselves accountable
  • Meaning at Scale by designing experiences that will scale which amplify our humanity — and meaning and meaningful experiences are the key to that
  • Subtle nuances are not AI’s strong suit (yet) — but humans generally do nuance well
  • Where can humans add the most value? By being human.
  • The Moviefone Kramer Model — A model for leveraging human skills in the agile deployment of emerging tech
  • Repurpose human skills and qualities to higher value roles
  • Meaningful experiences, intelligently automated, aligned with strategic purpose
  • A future of human experiences that don’t foster absurdity, that preserve meaning for the humans on the other side of the transaction
  • A future of humanity where our work has built meaning that can scale
  • Ask yourself the question “What are you trying to do at scale?”
  • Create more meaningful human experiences.

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